Organizational Change

An Ethical, Means Based, Approach to Organizational Change

Literature Review
Literature Review - Summary

The literature concerning organizational change tends to fall into one of two main categories, one that emphasizes organizational efficiency and the other which emphasizes social change. Within these two groupings a desired outcome is emphasized rather than creating a clear understanding of the dynamics of organizational change. I speculate this is due to market forces which has made improving organizational efficiency a lucrative enterprise. Another less dominate but significant market is interested in achieving social change generating a need for this type of literature. In reviewing this literature I believe that an over emphasis is being placed on selling books and services.

The literature which emphasizes achieving organizational efficiency bases its assumptions on the work of Kurt Lewin. Kurt Lewin proposed a "force field" analysis model to understand organizational change. Force field analysis proposes that an organization is typically in a state of equilibrium. There are two forces which maintain organizational stability: driving forces and restraining forces. The driving forces are those elements of the organization which support a desired organizational change. Keeping the organization in equilibrium are the restraining forces. If the two forces are equal, the organization will remain static. Change occurs when one of these two forces becomes stronger than the other (disequilibrium). Once the change has occurred, the organization reverts to a new state of equilibrium which reflects the desired change.

Followed to a logical conclusion, Lewin’s model predicts that an intervention which strengthens the driving forces or weakens the restraining forces will result in the desired change. Intervention strategies differ from author to author but they contain similar elements. The following are the basic elements of a formula based organizational change strategy.

1 Determining the need to change
2 Development of a vision.
3 Consensus building
4 Identify barriers to implementation
5 Walk the talk
6 Creating an overall change strategy.
7 Implementation and Evaluation

According to Gateway Information Services, a New York consulting firm, 70% of all change programs fail due to employee resistance. Given the poor success record of various interventions strategies, it is reasonable to seriously question their validity as it relates to understanding the dynamics of organizational change. If intervention strategies are suspect, it is also reasonable to question the organizational change theory which supports these interventions. Lewin’s model of organizational change consists of two basic concepts. The first that an organization’s natural state is static or unchanging. Lewin describes this state as being “frozen”. When the organization is in a state of change it is malleable or it “thaws” then reverts to a static or “frozen” state. The second is an organization can be successfully divided into two groups. One that seeks change and one that opposes change. I have grave doubts that either concept has much basis in actual organizations.

The second grouping of literature concerning organizational change focuses on social change. In contrast to Lewin based interventions, this body of literature does not require the support of an organization’s management. In fact it often assumes that change agents can expect the active opposition of those “in power”.

This view of an organization is more compete and offer a better insight as to how an organization functions with respect to change. An organization needs the elements of power, leadership, management, authority, social control, cultural change and vision in order to function effectively. The priority of each of these elements depends heavily on the organization's overall mission. It is important to realize that the priority of each of these elements are not static but shift as the need arises. Change occurs through the action of a visionary. The visionary by nature, or definition, holds views different from the organization as a whole.

Based on work done by Roseabeth Kanter, it seems that no mater were a person is in the organization they feel, at least to some degree, that they are powerless to change the organization. This, of course, is a matter of perspective. The people at the bottom certainly don't see the people at the top as being powerless. Yet the people at the top acknowledge all the trappings associated with power but don't experience the power to substantially influence the organization. The people who are in the middle share the view of power from both the top and the bottom simultaneously. I feel it is reasonable to conclude that a realistic understanding of organizational change recognize all of these viewpoints as an aspect of reality.

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